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No history of Arctic exploration is complete without at least one instance of shoe-eating. Here’s what happens: A group of European explorers set sail for the North Pole or Northwest Passage, seeking to add to human knowledge and bring glory to themselves and their country. They wear cotton and wool, they bring stores of European food and recipes with them, and they insist on maintaining their “civilized” ways. Then, inevitably, they get stuck in or lost on the ice. The food spoils or runs out, and the men get hungry.

Sometimes there’s no choice but to be hungry. Other times these stubborn explorers are surrounded by local food sources—ptarmigan, Arctic char, seal, Narwhal—but refuse to take advantage of the plenty. They regard the local Inuit diet as “savage” and beneath them. Until starvation sets in, that is, at which time they turn to the soles of their shoes. It’s an ignominious legacy.

I was hungry for the last three and a half days of the Food Stamp Challenge. Not desperately so, but enough to make me realize I might have more in common with the shoe eaters than I’d like. No Ramen, onion powder, generic mac-n-cheese or Zatarain’s for me. Oh no! I was going to eat real food. Real whole food to be precise. Food that let me control my fat, sugar, and salt intake. And I did! Just not enough. Thus, the hunger.

And once hunger had accumulated over several days, it began to dominate my thoughts. How long until I could eat again? How much could I spend? How many calories could I get for that money? Food. Food. Food. It’s all I could think about. I remember some years ago a Congresswoman from Missouri suggesting that hunger might motivate poor kids at school to do better. At the time, I thought she was a hateful idiot based on what I had read about hunger and IQ.

And I still do, except now my feelings are increased a hundred-fold. Because here’s the thing: This person is either so damn stupid about hunger that she isn’t qualified to serve, or she’s so damn insensitive to suffering that she’s too callous to serve. Either way, I hope she’s out of the public sector. Also? I hope she rots in hell. As a Jew, I don’t believe in hell, but I still hope (former) Representative Cynthia Davis (I just looked her up) rots in it.

Echem. I’ll calm down now. See what hunger does to one? My challenge wrapped last night. I ended up spending a total of $28.63 on food during the week, not including Sunday night’s dinner at the JCC. Today I get to go back to eating my normal diet. It’s also grocery-shopping day. It’s going to feel strange to get to put whatever I want into my cart. And I have to say, today at least, I don’t think I’ll be able to toss deli items or expensive frozen entrees into my cart. Not when I know that the cost of the deli avocado roll is more than what some people have to eat on all day.

I’m sure I’ll slip back into my old ways soon enough, but I’m not ready to begin profligate spending just yet. It’s going to take longer before I can stop doing the math whenever I eat. I also hope I never let food go bad in my fridge again. Waste among want really is a sin. Also? I’ll be buying some extra food for the local Dare to Care food bank today. In fact, I think I’ll be doing that on a regular basis from now on.

P.S. I’d like to add that I thought this would be easier than it was. I honestly thought I might be uniquely qualified for the challenge. Hunger? I give you Yom Kippur fasts. Been there. Monotony? Passover. Done that. Reliance on beans and rice? Vegetarian for 22 years; vegan off-and-on for periods in between. No sweat. But once hunger stretches past the three-day mark, it’s an entirely different animal. And in my experience, $4.50 wasn’t enough to fill up on healthful food. Had this challenge gone an extra week, I would have been investing in high-calorie, high-sodium, and low-nutrient foods.


4 Responses to “Food Stamp Challenge: Finale”

  1. Kate says:

    I really like the idea of this challenge! I may do something like that with my “American Mosaic” class this term. It’s one thing to know intellectually how difficult it is to live on so little, but it’s something else to experience it yourself, even if for just a week.
    On an entirely different topic: my long-time furry companion, Skitter (aka Wadsofur aka Pawsie) died this last week due to kidney disease. I got ShuShu when you got Percival; she ended up with my Grandma, who had her many years before she (the cat) died last year. I got Skitter in 1999. He’s my Facebook photo. The day after he died, I was leaving for a highly anticipated trip to CA to see Midge Ure in concert for the first time. The trip was great, the music fantastic, and Midge gorgeous (and I stood right next to the stage for both shows!), but the apartment is too quiet now. Dramatic highs and lows, a bit disorienting! Anyway, I don’t mean to take over your blog here with off topic stuff, but wanted to tell you about Skitter. I don’t remember if you met him or not (gorgeous long-haired black cat). I think Amanda met him when she put me up at her place on one of my cross-country moves, but I don’t recall that for sure either.

  2. blg says:

    Jessica, great job on the Food Stamp Challenge. Very instructive. I have had one thought throughout. Might you have done better if you had shopped for the whole week at once? Spread the cost of, say, a container of plain yogurt over the entire week?

  3. Jessica says:

    Hi Blg: Actually, this is what I did. I bought my groceries, then figured out the per serving/meal cost and kept a running daily total. If I only used part of something, like half an onion, the rest went to the next meal. Any uneaten food would have counted against my weekly total at the end.

    I did this in part to as a rationing mechanism. At the finale event, lots of folks reported that they ran out food towards the end of the week and had to go out and buy more. I was one of about 4 that successfully completed the challenge, if you count being slightly hungry all the time as successful.

  4. Amanda says:

    Hey Kate!
    So sorry about Skitter. I do remember him, Mr. Wads-o-fur. Kidney disease is the curse of older kitties, I lost my own Peaches to it a couple of years ago. When you’re ready, find yourself another kitty to love. Or let one find you.

    Jess: the other issue about food is living in food deserts. You have a car, which means you have transportation to places that have decent food. When I lived in DC sans automobile, the only grocery store within walking distance (dubbed the “Soviet Safeway”–long lines and no food) regularly ran out of basics like milk and bread by noon on Saturdays. Produce was old and gross and certain items were non-existent. The whole place was dirty and smelled like rotten meat. My mom refused to set foot in the place. It was also overpriced–not as bad as the Social Safeway in Georgetown or the Gay Safeway in DuPont, but still overpriced. They had a poor, captive, mostly immigrant population and they just didn’t give a shit. I was just back from Africa and had better food in a country with rampant hunger issues.

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